If you think you might need to visit a Philadelphia health center in the next few months, make an appointment now. Wait times for first-time adult visits crept up to 83 days in February, three days longer than the same period last year.
Philadelphia Department of Public Health officials said part of the reason wait times are so long at the city’s eight clinics is because they have trouble recruiting and retaining doctors.
The problem, officials say, is that physician salaries there are much lower than the area average.
In the 2014 budget, Health Commissioner Donald Schwarz asked the city for additional funds to change that.
“It’s about a 25 to 28 percent increase in physician salaries,” Schwarz said. “And it’s an increase of between $1.7 million and $1.8 million to the health department’s budget.”
That sounds like a big bump, but the increase would bring physician salaries up only to the area average, according to a 2011 city analysis of local physician salaries.
More people are expected to become insured next year as the federal health law goes into full effect, creating more of a demand for primary-care services.
“That means there will be more demand for physicians, and if we as a city are very far behind in physician salaries, it’s going to be hard for us to attract and retain physicians,” Schwarz said.
University of Pennsylvania medical professor Dr. David Grande said those long wait times at both publicly and privately run safety-net clinics in the city are likely to spike if Medicaid is expanded in Pennsylvania.
“All of these clinics will see increased demand as insurance coverage increases,” Grande said. “And if insurance coverage increases quite a bit in a short period of time, I think that they will see a spike in demand. It won’t be necessarily real gradual.”
Grande expects a much more modest bump in demand from the expansion of private insurance.
Public budget hearings are still ongoing in City Council. A finalized budget is expected in June.